I'm not sure I even know where to start. This weekend has been a rollercoaster of emotions (and the odd accomplishment), and has left me feeing about as rung out as an old, grey dishcloth.
Along the way, I've discovered a few things about myself; some good, some bad and some surprising.
We had a lovely dinner at the flat on Friday night - Jo, Hannah and myself. Lots of laughing, lots of smiles, and a bit too much food. I mistakenly bought crisps and dips for us to eat whilst dinner was cooking - definitely an error bought on by frantic last minute shopping whilst I was hungry on Friday night before shooting home to find Jo already arrived and waiting. This much I have now learned - there's no point doing a nice healthy dinner and staying off the booze the night before a sporting event, if you then chow down a shitload of crisps and dips - it will not give you energy in the morning. Big surprise.
After some last minute tinkering with the bikes after Hannah had gone, we loaded them into the car and then headed for our respective beds. Considering how nervous and unprepared I was feeling, I very surprised how well I slept on Friday night, and the alarm at 6.45 was all too soon.
We managed to get sorted on Saturday morning without too much faffage, and got up to the Downs pretty much on time. We were quite surprised how small the event was though - coming straight from the giant RunBristol with its 12,000 strong field 3 weeks ago to this was a bit of a shock. I would conservatively say there were about 100 or so women taking part, and pretty much all of them looked scarily fit. And those that didn't look as fit were all doing the novice distance, rather than the challenge one we'd signed up for. Gulp.
Oh well - Jo and I had agreed we'd take our time and enjoy it, so we weren't ready to back out yet - we plonked ourselves at the back of the field and when the horn went we let everyone else stream away from us. They started the race in 2 waves - the challenge competitors starting 3 minutes ahead of the novice field.
This had a pretty depressing effect for us, because it meant that not only did most of our set shoot off and leave us in the dust, but after about 10 mins or so, the fastest of the novice runners started overtaking us, and we knew they were only going one lap of the running course.
We were actually really lucky with the weather as it was a clear, sunny day with a breeze to cool things down - the only problem was that because of where we were running on the Downs there was a section right by the cliffs that had a massive headwind just as you were slogging up the incline. The first loop of the running felt awful. Dinner from Friday night was sitting like lead, my legs felt much the same and I just generally felt like someone had drained my battery, which is possibly the worst feeling to start the longest race of your life to date with!
Still, we plodded stubbornly round, and at least the running loop was quite pretty - once you got past the Death Section with all the wind, we circled the bottom part of the Downs on tree-lined roads and then across the centre on a path and back to the start. They'd set the course so that we ran on trails and paths, and then cycled a longer loop on closed roads outside of the running circuit. Heading back to the start to begin our second lap running, we saw we were on about 16 mins, so although it felt slow, I was actually running at my normal pace.
Now we had the added depression of the novice competitors starting to whizz past us on their bikes. Do you know how slow you feel when you're plodding / running and other people are cycling?? It's very bloody slow! There were a couple of fallers during the run from the only people going roughly our speed, so it meant that going into transition was quite demoralising because there were literally only 4 other bikes left besides ours. On the upside, that made it pretty damn easy to find the bikes and get in and out!
Because of the heat, I'd really regretting leaving my running bottle in the bag and not having a drink during the first 5k, so I was super grateful for my still cool Lucozade on my bike and a small bag of Jelly Babies I'd also stashed. My stomach was feeling a bit more settled by the end of the run, so the Jelly Babies gave me the final pick-me-up I needed, and getting on the bike felt great after trudging round the grass. I was even starting to overtake a few people here and there. The problem now became keeping in contact with Jo, and it was quite crowded and riding 2 abreast is forbidden.
Somewhere in the middle of the cycling, I clearly just zoned out and started enjoying churning the gears, as I suddenly realised that I'd pulled away from Jo. Going round the far turnaround points on laps 3 and 4 I realised she was a good minute or so behind me, but figured she'd catch me up in transition and the 2nd run.
Very rough calculations whilst on the bike made me guess I was lapping around 14 mins a 5km loop, which was a bit quicker than I'd hoped for, so I was pretty pleased with how the time was going, given I was expecting the 2nd run to be much slower. And boy, was I right. Getting off and running again was murder! For a start, I stupidly forgot to take my helmet off, so had to run back into transition and just lobbed it by the fence. And I had definitely forgotten how hard running after a bike ride is! The idea of another two laps (not to mention that the first bit of the run was back in the headwind again) felt insurmountable.
I could see a few folks in front of me walking, but I knew that if I could just run for the first 10 mins, my legs would start to feel more human and less cotton-wool again. So I doggedly plodded on, over-taking another 2 people as I did. I told myself I just needed to run as far as the water-station halfway round the lap, then I could walk for a bit. At the water-station it waas the flat easy section back across the common, so I thought maybe just run to the end of the first lap, and then I could chill going back into the head wind again. And oddly enough, by the end of the first lap, I was feeling a little better. Tired but ok. Just the final 2.5k lap to go. Still running (-ish - more slow jogging), just telling myself to keep going, just get to the water station again, sneaking another look at my watch, think just another 10 mins of this and you're done. Just keep going. Come on, you can run to the end now - so close.
I went into the race with no expectations of time. Just to finish would be great. We reckoned that we'd be done in 2:30 tops, but I thought maybe closer to 2:15 would be the aim. Now looking at my watch, I was thinking 2:10 was do-able. Jo hadn't caught me up on the run which surprised me. I'd seen her coming round the final corner on her bike as I'd started my run, so I knew she wasn't far behind, and everytime I heard footsteps I thought it might be her. I even tried to look back on my second lap, but couldn't see her anywhere behind me. In that situation, I felt bad, because we'd said we'd do it together, but short of stopping altogether and waiting I wasn't sure what to do apart from continue and do the best I could now.
I crossed the line in 2:08. 10k of running with a 20k bike ride in the middle. And I ran the whole 10k, which was definitely more than I was expecting. Even more surprising was I didn't feel terrible at the end - tired, but not sick like RunBristol. Jo finally turned up at 2:15 - it turned out her new trainers had given her a bad blister on her right foot, and it had burst sometime on the second run, so she'd ended up having to walk a lot of it.
I felt bad for not having been with her, but also realised later that there would have been nothing I could have done to help apart from be there.
No medals from this race, and no photos at the moment, although official ones go up tomorrow. But a small sense of accomplishment at challenging myself and doing it.
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